Thursday, August 6, 2009

PETA Is Detrimental To The Animal Rights Movement. Yeah, I Said It (Now Move On, Already)

In this new feature called Yeah, I Said It (Now Move On Already), bazookaluca attempts to dole out some simple truths about certain subjects. These maxims might be ignored or suppressed by people who are out to derail the betterment of humanity as a whole. You yourself might even disagree with some of the statements contained within these pages, and I would humbly respect your opinion if it (and you) weren't, in fact, wrong. But it is (and you are), so listen up:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk is a highly motivated person, but in the way that Osama bin Laden, Ann Coulter, and Reverend Fred Phelps are highly motivated people; which is to say, we'd all be better off if they decided not to get out of bed in the morning.

Like the rest of these cultural pests, Newkirk has used underhanded, shock-and-awe tactics and, more often than not, crazy attention-grabbing stunts, in an attempt to subvert some facet of the establishment. She's done this mostly to the detriment of her own cause—to stop animals from being eaten, worn, experimented on, or used for entertainment. And while under the right circumstances these are worthwhile causes to champion, it is the belligerent manner with which her organization chooses to attain these goals that is ultimately detrimental to the credibility of the animal rights movement as a whole.

From its very start, PETA was inherently founded on unrealistic and impractical ideals. Their stance on complete animal noninterference by humans is beyond delusional, if not plainly idiotic. They make the assumption that humans are to act as mere spectators in the food chain and not as active participants. Even as a decade-plus vegetarian, I see this as a blatant misconception of evolutionary history.

And what's more, in their fervor to reject speciesism (the practice of assigning different values or rights to animals based on their respective species), they ignore the benefits of symbiotic relationships in nature, which clearly are integral components of survival. In their failure to recognize that different species stand to gain from each other by interacting, they oppose such innocuous practices as blind persons using seeing-eye dogs and farming bees for honey production.

These acts are not only advantageous for humans, but also harmless for the animals involved. While perhaps humans may stand to gain more than the animals involved in these cases, it's certainly a victimless crime. In return for their duties, the dogs are fed, loved and taken care of and the bees are merely left to do what they are evolutionarily programmed to do—make honey.

What I find more ludicrous, and what most people might not even know about PETA, is that they don't want people to have animals as pets. At all. No interaction, whatsoever. This, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of its supporters are proud pet owners themselves. PETA equates pet ownership to slavery and ignores the fact that responsible pet owners can be as committed to their animals as they are to other humans, if not more so. Once again, they fail to recognize that two species can benefit from each other by cohabiting.

Even with a clearly controversial issue such as biomedical research—one that makes most people uncomfortable—the reality is that the discovery and production of medicines such as insulin, penicillin, anticoagulants and pain killers would not have been possible without animal testing, therefore, we as humans have an inherent civic responsibility to pursue testing for the sake of a better existence and progress. However, Newkirk has stated that "even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it."

Not coincidentally, PETA gained notoriety for uncovering cruel practices in a primate research laboratory at the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Springs, Maryland in 1981. And rightly, it led to an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act in 1985 that ensured that researchers do not cause unnecessary suffering to laboratory animals. This type of pursuit is commendable because it exposed misconduct by a largely unregulated industry. But PETA's focus gradually switched from fighting for worthwhile causes and advancing the public discourse on issues regarding animal rights to frivolously attempting to gain international attention as a way to raise funds. This has been attributed to Ingrid Newkirk's own ambition and moral entitlement.

In this shameless pursuit of attention, PETA's image has almost exclusively been characterized by exploitative marketing techniques which often include ad campaigns that are demeaning and objectifying to women. They think that they can take a misogynistic approach to selling virtuous principles, as long as it gains press. Newkirk doesn't deny it:
The fact is we may be doing all sorts of things on a campaign but the one thing that gets attention is the outrageous thing. It simply goes to prove to us each time, that that is the thing that’s going to work; and so we won’t shirk from doing that facet.
– Ingrid Newkirk, Satya, January, 2001
But is it ethical to advance one set of values to the detriment of another?

And what about the endless string of publicity stunts that keep them in the news, including but not limited to:
  • Putting a naked pregnant woman in a cage to dramatize the plight of pigs.
  • Throwing buckets of paint onto people wearing fur.
  • Breaking into stores and vandalizing leather merchandise.
  • Running celebrity ads where they'd "Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur".
  • Referring to factory farming as "Holocaust On Your Plate".
  • Passing out pamphlets comparing the suffering of animals to the plight of slavery, while dressed in KKK outfits.
  • Asking the Pet Shop Boys to change their name to the "Rescue Shelter Boys".
  • Demanding that we start calling fish "sea kittens".
  • Saying that feeding your kids meat is child abuse.
  • Saying that eating meat will give you a limp dick.
  • Asking Ben & Jerry's to start using breast milk in their ice cream instead of dairy milk.
  • Getting Playmates to wear lettuce bikinis at public events.
  • Trying to air an overtly sexual "Vegetarianism Is Sexy" ad during the Super Bowl.
  • Sending President Obama a Humane Bug Catcher after he swatted a fly during a television interview.
  • Pushing to halt the Seattle fish mongers from tossing fish.
  • Distributing "Unhappy Meals", containing a menacing, knife-wielding Ronald McDonald cutout, a ketchup packet disguised as chicken blood, a plastic chicken covered in blood and a "McCruelty" t-shirt.
At what point does this impertinence become self-defeating? Is this progressive or regressive marketing?

In spite of all this, PETA's credibility is ultimately plagued by its own contradictory company practices. It preaches compassion and equality while condoning the use of violence, extortion and intimidation to achieve its own goals. The group has provided financial support to the Animal Liberation Front, a militant group, characterized by the FBI as a domestic terror threat. Its members have been linked to several acts of arson and plots of violence.

But perhaps what is most hypocritical is the outrageous numbers of pet euthanasia that PETA has been responsible for in the last few years. Since 1998, PETA has put down more than 17,400 animals. In 2006, in Virginia alone, PETA killed 97.4 percent of the animals it took in. Just twelve animals—out of 3,061 the group took in that year—were adopted out to new owners. To put this in perspective, in Virginia the average euthanasia rate for the Humane Society was just 34.7 percent in 2006.

In 2005, police in North Carolina discovered that in the course of a month, 80 animals had been euthanized by PETA shelter workers and criminally dumped in area commercial dumpsters. Animal abuse charges were filed.

PETA has justified their actions by saying that the vast majority of the animals it takes in are unwanted and that the conditions the animals were previously being kept in prevents them from being adoptable. But recently, a number of no-kill shelters around the country have shown that the overpopulation perception is largely just a myth. The Nevada Humane Society has acchieved adoption rates of upward of 90% just by dramatically ramping up volunteer programs and extending work hours in recent years.

Surly, if PETA—the largest and most well-funded animal rights group in the world ($34 million in revenue, 2008)—wanted to, it could acchieve the same kind of success. But their view on pet ownership as slavery prevents them from doing so; they would rather kill an animal than make an effort to get it adopted.

Ultimately, PETA is more of a detriment to the animal rights movement than a benefit. Their claim that they're merely raising awareness by any means necessary is misguided and dangerous. It raises loads of money by preying on celebrity endorsements and publicity stunts, but does very little in terms of positive, progressive action.

If you care about animals and want to make a real difference, you're better off giving your money and your time to organizations like these:

The Humane Society

Now stop giving PETA money and move on already!


  1. not only do they want fish to be called "sea kittens" but they also asked Phish to change their name.



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